OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were to determine the availability of, access to and nutrition-related uses of African leafy vegetables in rural and urban households; and to determine the β-carotene content of the dominant African leafy vegetable.
DESIGN: The study consisted of a qualitative explorative phase (field walks, semi-structured interviews with key informants, focus group discussions) at two rural sites; and a quantitative household survey (questionnaire) at two rural and one urban site. Amaranth leaves were analysed for β-carotene content.
SETTINGS AND SUBJECTS: The household survey included households at a rural site in Limpopo province (n = 100); and a rural (n = 101) and urban (n = 391) site in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.
RESULTS: A variety of edible plants were identified during field walks at the two rural sites. Focus group discussions narrowed this down to ten plants at the rural Limpopo site and six at the rural KwaZulu-Natal site. The most popular leaves were amaranth (Amaranthus spp), spider plant (Cleome gynandra), wild watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) and blackjack (Bidens spinosa), consumed individually or mixed with other leaves. Rural households procured leaves mostly from the wild whereas urban households relied more on informal markets. In Limpopo, leaves were dried and stored for consumption during winter. KwaZulu-Natal households considered African leafy vegetables food for the poor. Leaves were boiled in salted water, or steamed and then fried in oil. Fried and boiled amaranth leaves contained 627 and 429 μg retinol activity equivalents/100 g respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Availability of, access to and nutrition-related uses of African leafy vegetables are context-specific, with inter- and intraprovincial rural/urban differences. Information collected during small studies within a specific area can therefore not be generalised for the overall South-African population. Amaranth can potentially contribute significantly to vitamin A requirements of nutritionally vulnerable communities.